Do We Understand the Game, Now?

October 20, 2018


As the world has begun to turn away from fossil fuels, the oligarchs who control those fuels, and see the trillions of dollars in still-buried hydrocarbons as their birthright, have unleashed a final play to lock down the global political and economic system, permanently, in service of their fortunes.

Ian Fleming would be envious.

New York Times:

Twitter executives first became aware of a possible plot to infiltrate user accounts at the end of 2015, when Western intelligence officials told them that the Saudis were grooming an employee, Ali Alzabarah, to spy on the accounts of dissidents and others, according to five people briefed on the matter. They requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Mr. Alzabarah had joined Twitter in 2013 and had risen through the ranks to an engineering position that gave him access to the personal information and account activity of Twitter’s users, including phone numbers and I.P. addresses, unique identifiers for devices connected to the internet.

The intelligence officials told the Twitter executives that Mr. Alzabarah had grown closer to Saudi intelligence operatives, who eventually persuaded him to peer into several user accounts, according to three of the people briefed on the matter.

Caught off guard by the government outreach, the Twitter executives placed Mr. Alzabarah on administrative leave, questioned him and conducted a forensic analysis to determine what information he may have accessed. They could not find evidence that he had handed over Twitter data to the Saudi government, but they nonetheless fired him in December 2015.

Mr. Alzabarah returned to Saudi Arabia shortly after, taking few possessions with him. He now works with the Saudi government, a person briefed on the matter said.

A spokesman for Twitter declined to comment. Mr. Alzabarah did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Saudi officials.

On Dec. 11, 2015, Twitter sent out safety notices to the owners of a few dozen accounts Mr. Alzabarah had accessed. Among them were security and privacy researchers, surveillance specialists, policy academics and journalists. A number of them worked for the Tor project, an organization that trains activists and reporters on how to protect their privacy. Citizens in countries with repressive governments have long used Tor to circumvent firewalls and evade government surveillance.

“As a precaution, we are alerting you that your Twitter account is one of a small group of accounts that may have been targeted by state-sponsored actors,” the emails from Twitter said.

The Saudis’ sometimes ruthless image-making campaign is also a byproduct of the kingdom’s increasingly fragile position internationally. For decades, their coffers bursting from the world’s thirst for oil, Saudi leaders cared little about what other countries thought of the kingdom, its governance or its anachronistic restrictions on women.

But Saudi Arabia is confronting a more uncertain economic future as oil prices have fallen and competition among energy suppliers has grown, and Crown Prince Mohammed has tried relentlessly to attract foreign investment into the country — in part by portraying it as a vibrant, more socially progressive country than it once was.


New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Russians working for a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin are engaging in an elaborate campaign of “information warfare” to interfere with the American midterm elections next month, federal prosecutors said on Friday in unsealing charges against a woman whom they labeled the project’s “chief accountant.”

The woman, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, 44, of St. Petersburg, managed a multimillion-dollar budget for the effort to “sow division and discord” in the American political system, according to a criminal complaint. She bought internet domain names and Facebook and Instagram ads and spent money on building out Twitter accounts and paying to promote divisive posts on social media.

She worked for several entities owned by Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch sometimes known as “Putin’s chef” who was among 13 Russians indicted in February by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, on charges of interfering in the election two years ago.

[Read the complaint against Elena Khusyaynova.]

The operation detailed in the complaint was the latest evidence that Mr. Putin had brushed off a broad Western campaign aimed at deterring Russian intrusions in Europe and the United States. In addition to numerous Justice Department prosecutions of Russians for election interference and other covert operations, the United States and its allies have imposed sanctions on prominent Russians and kicked out dozens of Russian diplomats after the poisoning in March of a former Kremlin spy in Britain. Ms. Khusyaynova’s operation, prosecutors said, continued through it all.

As in 2016 — when American intelligence agencies assessed that Russia was trying to bolster the campaign of Donald J. Trump — the conspirators seized on divisions in American politics, prosecutors said in describing a yearslong effort called Project Lakhta. This year, the trolls wrote posts touching on immigration, guns, race relations, women and even the debate over the protests by National Football League players during the national anthem. Since April 2014, prosecutors said, Ms. Khusyaynova acted as the chief accountant for the project.

But this time, prosecutors said the operatives appeared beholden to no particular candidate. Russia’s trolls did not limit themselves to either a liberal or conservative position, according to the complaint. They often wrote from diverging viewpoints on the same issue.

“The conspiracy has a strategic goal, which continues to this day, to sow division and discord in the U.S. political system,” David Holt, an F.B.I. special agent, wrote in an affidavit.


Wall Street Journal(paywall):

Saudi Arabia has put the U.S. on its shortlist of potential partners competing to build nuclear-power plants in the kingdom, while the two countries negotiate how to do a deal without spreading nuclear weapons, Energy Secretary Rick Perry said.

The kingdom has been hearing offers from several countries, including Russia, South Korea and China, for what could be the biggest new market for nuclear power. Mr. Perry told reporters Wednesday the kingdom recently made a decision that keeps U.S. businesses— foremost Westinghouse Electric Co.—in the mix for what could ultimately become a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

The administration has felt pressure to help the U.S. nuclear industry land a deal for new business at a time when its domestic market is rapidly shrinking. The Saudis, for their part, have used the competition to try to drive better terms and protect their own right to enrich uranium or reprocess spent fuel.

Critics say that if the U.S. offers more permissive standards for Saudi Arabia, it will send a dangerous signal at a time more countries across the volatile region aspire to acquire nuclear technology. But supporters of a deal with Saudi Arabia argue there are other ways to address nonproliferation concerns and that if the U.S. isn’t willing to sell nuclear technology, other nations will.



One Response to “Do We Understand the Game, Now?”

  1. redskylite Says:

    Ian Fleming indeed, with the recent unspeakable horrors reported in Turkey with one of the big oil players, world news is becoming more like a plot of one of those fantasy U.S magazines I used to read in the late 50’s early 60’s, with a touch of “Game of Thrones” and a Shakespearean play rolled in. Now the orange headed one is cancelling the post cold war detente and it’s open days on developing the big nukes again. Can the plot get more evil ? Where on earth are we going ? Will there be someone to restore all this madness and return detente to the world ?

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